It was as if they had a collective brain cramp, to the point where the Detroit Tigers radio crew of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price kept pointing out that, in addition to Brad Penny throwing fastball after fastball, catcher Victor Martinez was setting up on the outside against right-handed batters pitch after pitch without any of the Toronto Blue Jays figuring it out. And later, after he'd finished carving up the Blue Jays on a Sunday afternoon, Penny remarked that he really didn't have a chance to dust off his off-speed pitches because the Blue Jays were swinging at early fastballs.
First impressions really can be deceiving, no? You can call them the go-go Blue Jays if you want - we all have - but then you'd better be able to explain why they are among the worst teams in the American League in extra-bases taken at 34 per cent, below the league average of 40 per cent. Last year they were 36 per cent; in 2009 they were a tick above 40 per cent. It isn't all about steals and intentions, you know? The Blue Jays faced Tigers starter Max Scherzer Monday night and were seventh in team average, ninth in runs scored and eight in on-base percentage heading into the game. Their team OPS was right on the league average at .709.
"I really believe we're better offensively then we've shown, but it's hard to develop any consistency when you're not out there day after day," Jose Bautista said.
True, that. As general manager Alex Anthopoulos remarked Monday: In 2010, the Blue Jays were unusually healthy, or at least manageably healthy. Their lineup Monday was the 31st different lineup in 35 games for manager John Farrell, and it can be argued that even the Blue Jays have never been 100-per-cent healthy since the first inning of their season opener, when Rajai Davis mucked up his ankle getting caught in a run-down. Sunday, the Blue Jays had Aaron Hill and Bautista back in the lineup but were without Adam Lind, whose stiff back had Farrell suggesting Monday that a trip to the 15-day disabled list was not entirely out of the question.
Lind ranked first in the AL in runs batted in and was third in multi-hit games, which is pretty much the type of protection Farrell envisioned for Bautista, who is getting the full Barry Bonds treatment: one pitch to hit every game. "It helps," Bautista said, "but I still think it's what I do that dictates how I'm pitched. When I'm hot, I get pitched carefully."
Farrell would like to see his charges copy Bautista's approach: Once in a hitter's count, look for a pitch in a certain zone and put a good swing on it. But when a lineup includes Corey Patterson, a slumping Davis, Edwin Encarnacion and John McDonald, that isn't going to happen. This is not the team the Blue Jays envisaged in spring training and it won't be until Travis Snider is back in the majors and Lind and everybody else is healthy.
"You have to respond to who is available on every given day," said Farrell, a first-year manager. "You have to respond to the day-to-day situations - and we've found ourselves in a lot of those situations."
Predictably, the 2011 season has fallen into the normal rhythms of a rebuilding year - some good games, some bad games, some flat-out stinkers, a couple of core players unexpectedly in the minor leagues and the sense that, offensively, we still don't know what this Blue Jays team is really all about. The good news is with pitching on the ascension, there's a whole lot of that going around.